SMHS Library Resources

Updates and information from your health sciences library

Dear librarian, is this journal legit?

One of the most enjoyable questions a librarian can get is something along the lines of “Is this journal that emailed me for real?” And the email usually reads something along the lines of:

Respected Sir/Madam

Become an integral part of our esteemed community by submitting your manuscript now!

Explore our comprehensive author guidelines to ensure a smooth manuscript submission process. Visit our webpage for more information.

Kind regards with gratitude, Journal Editor

And, fortunately for librarians, and unfortunately for authors, spammy emails from questionable journals seem to be a fact of life for researchers and academics. So, short of asking your friendly neighborhood librarian for their opinion (please do!), how can you tell whether that journal that emailed you as “Respected Sir/Madam” is real?

Lateral thinking is the answer. Put on your metaphorical deerstalking cap and investigate the connection-points of the journal to the rest of the scholarly communications ecosystem. Ask:

  • Who makes the journal happen?
  • Look up the address on Google Earth. Is it a car dealership?
  • Who are the editors and publishers? Compare their CVs to the journal’s list.
  • What kinds of articles are being published?
  • Do they seem credible to you?
  • Who is the journal’s audience?
  • How does the journal make money?
  • Are the author publication charges reasonable?
  • Does the peer review system seem designed to be equitable, or speedy?

You’d be surprised how clear the picture becomes when you start asking these questions.

Investigating a journal can be a very diverting way to while away an afternoon, but do beware problematic heuristics! Ungrammatical English or an ugly website does not equal poor quality: it’s very easy to discriminate based on nationality, wealth, or culture; and we know that structures of academic research are incredibly inequitable (it is not coincidence that the top 16 medical journals are all published in English by either the U.S. or U.K.). Further, lists of “predatory publishers” (Beall’s, Cabell’s etc.) are notoriously problematic but shared widely.

If you fancy your own investigation, here is a short list of questionable journals you can explore:

Drop the library a line if you’d like to discuss!

Further reading

Aczel, B., Szaszi, B., & Holcombe, A. O. (2021). A billion-dollar donation: estimating the cost of researchers’ time spent on peer review. Research Integrity and Peer Review, 6(1), 14.

Altbach, P. G. (1978). Scholarly Publishing in the Third World. Library Trends. Spring. 489-503.